When we set limits to keep kids safe and they immediately respond by pushing back, totally disregarding us, or flat-out ignoring them, tough feelings tend to come up. We’re suddenly filled with resentment, anger, confusion, fear, frustration, annoyance. We need to protect kids, and an essential part of that is being heard and understood when we set limits around safety. Those feelings and needs are normal, natural, and so, so valid.
Something key to keep in mind: when kids push limits, they're not being intentionally disobedient or disrespectful. They're simply trying to figure out the rules and boundaries of the world around them—granted, sometimes with a mischievous air about them.
This behavior is a natural (and crucial!) part of their development. Not only is this limit pushing behavior normal, it's a sign that they're curious, engaged, and interested in the world around them. That knowing can exist right alongside the frustration we feel when kids resist everything we do.
When kids push limits, it's our job to help guide them towards safety without resorting to punishment or criticism. Our goal is to understand where they're coming from and work with them to find a solution that works for us and for them.
One way to do this is to use "approach goal" language when discussing limits with kids. Instead of saying "no,"--something the average kid hears over 400 times a day and quickly learns to filter out—try focusing on what kids can do.
For example, instead of saying "No hitting," we might say "You can touch your sister gently, like this." Instead of saying “Stop yelling!” we might say “Please use a quiet voice.” This approach communicates the limit without bogging kids down with no after no after no.
Does no still have its place? Of course! The key is to save it for when we really need it—so it keeps its impact.
Want more support around limits? Check out What’s Next After No, an extensive, immersive guide designed to explain the ins and outs of limits (and holding ‘em).